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Bass Pro Shops breaks ground for Bristol store

August 25th, 2012 2:23 am by J. H. Osborne

Bass Pro Shops breaks ground for Bristol store

Developer Steve Johnson of Johnson Commercial Development, left, and Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris unveil a drawing of the Bass Pro Shop at a groundbreaking ceremony Friday near the Exit 74 intersection of Interstate 81 and Highway 11-W in Bristol,

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Ground was broken Friday for a project the developer said will make Bristol home not only to the World's Fastest Half Mile, but also "the fastest Bass Pro Shops deal in history."

With a crowd of dignitaries looking on, developer Steve Johnson recounted how Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris first visited the site, on the northeast quadrant of the Interstate 81 and Highway 11-W interchange, on Aug. 2.

Days later, Morris called and said he'd like to see Johnson in Springfield, Mo. -- where Bass Pro Shops is headquartered -- a few hours later. Johnson soon discovered his own pilot wasn't available, so he called his friend Scott Niswonger, who immediately made his own plane available.

Johnson said after breakfast in Morris' kitchen the next morning (Cheerios in a plastic cup), Morris said he could put his 59th Bass Pro Shops store anywhere in America and asked Johnson why he should choose the Bristol location.

Recalling the moment choked Johnson up a bit.

"I paused for a minute, and I said, 'Johnny, Bristol Tennessee is the birthplace of country music, and Bristol Tennessee is home to Bristol Motor Speedway.'"

Johnson said he pointed out the combination of country music, NASCAR and Bass Pro Shops just couldn't be beaten.

Morris apparently agreed.

A deal was struck by Aug. 12.

Morris joined Johnson in a ceremonial turning of dirt and unveiling of an artist's rendering of what the Bristol Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World -- as a 104,000-square-foot anchor of Johnson's 400-acre mixed-use development, "The Pinnacle" -- will look like when it opens in late 2013 or early 2014.

Morris said he is excited about the chance to open a Bass Pro Shops in the area, which he said he loves and has visited regularly for years.

Morris said the Tri-Cities combined offer the 70th-largest retail market in the nation, and the region has a concentration of people who love to hunt and fish.

"Our whole company is grateful for this opportunity," Morris said.

Johnson said he'd been trying to think of a way to convey just what the Bass Pro Shops store will mean to the local economy.

He said everyone knows what it means when BMS is full of 160,000 fans for a NASCAR event. And he said based on customer visits at other Bass Pro Shops stores in the nation, it's reasonable to think the new Bristol store will draw 2 million visitors per year.

"So what Johnny has brought to Bristol is a packed house every month for the rest of our lives," Johnson said.

Bristol, Tenn., Mayor Joel Staton said the groundbreaking signals tremendous job growth on all levels "and that is our objective."

Staton said he expects to see many other stores and restaurants follow Bass Pro Shops' lead in locating at The Pinnacle.

Staton said many people are responsible for the development coming to fruition, but two should especially be pointed out for work at the state level: State Rep. Jon Lundberg and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey.

"I know how hard Ron and Jon worked to get this for our city," Staton said.

"We worked a long time to get to this point," Ramsey said, adding he'd spent many hours of constant telephone calls with Johnson "to make sure this happened."

Ramsey said the effort really began in earnest a year ago "when we passed legislation to help this happen."

Both Kingsport and Bristol have created border districts where they hope to develop shopping complexes as part of legislation passed by the Tennessee General Assembly. The law, designed to help border communities compete with neighboring states that have a lower sales tax rate than Tennessee, allows a community to capture the sales tax generated from developments if the total project includes a minimum $20 million investment, creates $2 million a year in new state sales tax revenue, and attracts 1 million visitors a year.

For its special taxation district, Kingsport designated 950 acres of land at the intersection of Interstates 81 and 26. Bristol's district includes the 400-acre Pinnacle site off Highway 11-W.

According to information distributed by Bass Pro Shops Friday, the Bristol location will be uniquely designed to pick up the local flavor of the area's outdoor heritage and include state record fish and wildlife exhibits and historical pictures and artifacts from local hunters and fishermen.

The store will offer a uniquely designed aquarium that will showcase native fish, an archery range, a boat showroom featuring Tracker, Nitro, Tahoe and Mako boats all built by Tracker Marine Group -- the world's largest manufacturer of fishing boats -- four service bays, and museum-quality wildlife mounts and dioramas.

Bass Pro Shops will staff approximately 250 to 300 associates from the area who have a passion for the outdoors so customers will be assured of getting local skilled, knowledgeable assistance with product selections and questions. The store will also offer free Outdoor Skills Workshops for adults, kids and families that will help maximize outdoor fun by teaching new skills and improving existing ones.

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